PBS Wisconsin Celebrates African American Music Appreciation Month

June 1, 2020 Alyssa Beno Leave a Comment

Every June since 1979, the United States has celebrated African American Music Appreciation Month to honor the contributions of African-American musicians, composers, singers and songwriters to our country’s musical and cultural foundation. PBS Wisconsin invites you to join the celebration with this selection of PBS programs, streaming online, through the free PBS app, and through PBS Passport.

Above photo: Jubilee Singers, circa 1875. Photo courtesy of Fisk University Archives.


The Light

The Light tells the forbidden love story of a girl exploring queer identity at the onset of the 21st century’s evolving negotiation of gender and sexuality. Told through a series of three sequential music videos, written and performed by Zhalarina Sanders playing both herself and her mother Diji, The Light is at once personal and universal — attending to the complexities of identity, coming-of-age, faith, self-actualization, and the bonds and tensions between parent and child.

Hip-Hop U: The First Wave Scholars

A film exploring the innovative work of students in the UW-Madison First Wave – Office of Multicultural Arts Initiatives program.

Wisconsin Life
“See Line Woman” with “I Want You Back”

Following the news that UW-Madison Professor of Bass, Jazz History and Combo Improvisation Richard Davis had received the NEA Jazz Master award, his UW performance class drew three times the usual numbers. Music majors and non-music majors collaborate to perform their favorite songs by black composers.

University Place
Black Music and the Black Experience in Vietnam

Lauren Onkey, the vice president of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, OH, moderates this panel discussion about the role black music played during the Vietnam War and the experiences of the panel members. 

University Place
The Legacy of Mary Lou Williams

Tammy Kernodle, Associate Professor of Musicology, discusses the future of jazz through a retrospective of the life and music of pianist and composer Mary Lou Williams. Williams was one of the only jazz musicians to have played through every era of jazz from the 1920s until 1980.


American Experience
P.G. Lowery and the Spread of African-American Music

P.G. Lowery grew up in a musical family. After training at the Boston Conservatory of Music, he joined the circus at the turn of the 20th century. Lowery’s all-black band spread early African-American music wherever the circus performed.

In Performance at the White House
The Gospel Tradition

This special showcases an evening in honor of gospel music and its profound influence on American music. Featured performers include Bishop Rance Allen, Pastor Shirley Caesar, Aretha Franklin, Rhiannon Giddens, the Morgan State University Choir and Michelle Williams.

Sound Field
What Makes Black Gospel Musicians So Skilled?

LA and Nahre travel to Chicago, the birthplace of gospel music. There they meet gospel artist Donald Lawrence and LA introduces Nahre to drum shed culture at a shed session on the south side. Later LA travels to Orlando to meet singer Tye Tribbett at his church. They talk about the shared exchange between secular and non secular music.

American Masters
Charley Pride: I’m Just Me

Explore the complicated history of the American South and its music through the life of country star Charley Pride. Raised in segregated Mississippi, his journey shows the ways that artistic expression can triumph over prejudice and injustice.

American Masters
Sammy Davis, Jr.: I’ve Gotta Be Me

The first major film documentary to examine Sammy Davis, Jr.’s vast talent and his journey for identity through the shifting tides of civil rights and racial progress during 20th century America.

Say It Loud
What Missy Elliott Did for Afrofuturism

Missy Elliott and her frequent collaborators have produced over two decades of music videos that we are going to attempt to justify as Afrofuturistic work. Grab your inflatable trash bags, as we take a stroll down memory lane.

Say It Loud
Is “Old Town Road” by Lil Nas X Real Country Music?

It’s often been said that music is a universal language. So why was “Old Town Road” by Lil Nas X initially removed from the country Billboard charts? Hallease and Evelyn use this hit record to talk about the business of music and how it has historically affected Black artists’ ability to “crossover,” stay true to their musical tastes, or experiment with the art form.


PBS Wisconsin Passport is an added membership benefit that provides extended access to quality PBS streaming video. Learn more at pbswisconsin.org/passport.

American Masters
Basquiat: Rage to Riches

One of the most influential American artists of the 20th century, Jean-Michel Basquiat was a rock star of the early ’80s New York art scene.

American Masters
Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool

Discover the man behind the legend. With full access to the Miles Davis Estate, the film features never-before-seen footage, including studio outtakes from his recording sessions, rare photos and new interviews.

American Experience
Jubilee Singers

In the chaotic decade following the Civil War, a group of young ex-slaves in Nashville, Tennessee set out on a mission to save their financially troubled school by giving concerts.

Great Performances
Nas Live From the Kennedy Center: Classical Hip-Hop

Two decades after the album’s critically acclaimed release, Nas teamed up with the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, to stage a symphonic rendition of “Illmatic,” one of the most revered albums in hip-hop history. 

Great Performances
Chicago Voices

Celebrate Chicago’s vibrant music culture with performances by Renée Fleming, Broadway’s Jessie Mueller, rap artist Lupe Fiasco, folk legend John Prine, pop and gospel singer Michelle Williams and more.